Madison, Wisconsin Understands Free Speech

I really laughed hard.  It was a satisfying and heartfelt laugh.  Next to me was a father from Madison who brought his two young children to witness the event and see democracy in action.   There was a lot for them to see and hear and I am glad to say that the real winner was free speech.

God started the rain just a few minutes after the neo-Nazis started to speak on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capital Saturday afternoon.  The prefect choreographer from above made the point for all who live in Madison and share the values of diversity and inclusion.  The message for the Nazis was twofold and straightforward.  We respect your right to speak but find your speech to be harmful and absurd.  About three minutes of a cold rain can really take the bite off a hate filled speech.

Saturday mornings in downtown Madison are the place to meet and mingle as thousands converge for coffee drinking and pastry eating while purchasing fruits and vegetables (and famous preserves) from the Farmers Market.  It has been a part of my spring and summers for nearly 20 years.  Today however the market had to shut down two hours early so the streets could be cleared, the barricades erected, and the police could put on their riot year.

One quarter of the State Capital was barricaded off with high wire fence near to where the Nazis would speak while the sidewalk area was cordoned off with double row snow fence and traffic barriers as seen on the roads during construction season.  The hours of work that went into preparing for the safety of the speakers was amazing to witness. 

While the press and many others all this week told the public to ignore the Nazis and give them no attention, several thousands of protesters of all ages found the need to stand up to them and state their objections directly.  (Your blogger was there to report the events for this post.)

At 2:00 P.M. with well over 50 riot gear clad officers on the lawn of the Capital, some on horses with the animal’s eyes protected against any eventuality, the Nazis took the top steps of the Capital.  Just a few feet from the window where I had my office in the past they marched and saluted as if they were actually in front of an adoring crowd.  While they used slogans about bringing the troops home from Iraq they talked disparagingly about immigrants, Jews, and a whole list of people they deem inferior.  For drama and flair they walked on an Israeli flag.  (To be honest, Nazis have very little stage presence.)

While the city and state paid for the protection that the Nazis required, the fact that their rants and hallucinations were able to be made shows the underlying strength we have as a city and a nation.  While many protestors (I estimate a thousand or more) united in loud boos and other vocal retorts no one can say the Nazis did not have an opportunity to speak and have their message heard.  Likewise the citizens who felt the need to stand up to the small-minded idiots giving the Hitler salutes also were able to openly vent and yell.

For the two small children if was a real taste of the inner turmoil that still grips our nation about free speech.  Both those children were able to see firsthand how the vilest of speech needs protection (in this case literally) so that all speech can be free and uncensored. 

The public square today was for more than selling fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market.  Today democracy was center stage and Madison and the Constitution were the winners.  I think that father was a winner too as he took his time to bring his kids to see free speech and democracy at work.


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